“Europe’s largest reserve” of rare earth minerals has been found in Sweden, mining company LKAB announced. “We need more and more of these minerals for the green transition,” says geologist Anouk Borst (KU Leuven/AfricaMuseum). “Now we are mainly dependent on China.”
How do you evaluate the announcement of the LKAB mining company?
They have found rare earth minerals in the mineral apatite, which they mine for phosphate, which is used as fertilizer. Rare earth minerals are always found in rocks with fifteen. These include neodymium and samarium. It’s a bit of a surprise to geologists because this site, in Kiruna in northern Sweden, wasn’t immediately on our radar as a potential source of rare earths.”
But LKAB did find evidence that they found a low concentration of rare earth metals. I dare not say if this is the largest stock in Europe. Because large quantities of ore with slightly higher concentrations of rare earth minerals are found in southern Sweden, Greenland and Russia. But it is found in minerals that are much more difficult to process than apatite. ”
Was the focus found large enough for marketing?
It is a low concentration of about 0.85 wt% of the oxides of those metals in apatite. We usually see this amount as a concentration that is too low to be economically viable. But since LKAB actually wants to mine apatite in this mine, it is possible to do so because rare earth minerals are actually a by-product. Moreover, this mine already exists, so you avoid the protests that usually accompany building a new mine. In Greenland and southern Sweden, it is not possible to prospect for rare earth mineral resources because the population fears and resists the environmental damage of such a mine.”
“However, it may take a long time before LKAB gets all the permits in order and has to start a new process of extracting rare earth minerals from the metal. This method exists by itself, but it usually does not happen in the same place as in the mine. But it is important It is important for Europe that we extract the materials and process them here and not leave that to China.”
What are these rare metals mainly used for?
“This discovery contains a lot of neodymium and that earth metal is needed for very strong magnets that are used in wind turbines and electric cars. We need more of this to shape the green energy transition. By 2030, rare earth production should increase about fivefold. Then it’s A real boost we find in Europe, because now we are mainly dependent on China for this. The country dominates the mining and processing of these raw materials. This is exactly the reason why Australia and the United States are now investing extra in the mining of rare earths. Europe has not mined for anything Until now “.
That’s why LKAB’s CEO says the discovery “could become the new oil” and make Sweden a new power.
“I think that goes a bit too far. We don’t need one raw material like oil, but many different minerals and for many of them some countries already have a monopoly, like Congo on cobalt. Wherever these finds are made, more will have to be drilled for.” “But this is difficult because sometimes it is accompanied by local environmental damage. We can make future exploration cleaner and more efficient, but it remains a major intervention. This presents a dilemma. Staying dependent on China, where few safety or environmental regulations are applied, or more mining.” Where do we have greater control over the impact on the environment?”
“In Kiruna, the mine already in place will not provide us with everything we need. We must realize that our wind turbines, electric cars, laptops and mobile phones do not grow on trees, but must be dug out of the ground.”
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